I consider myself to be an excellent packer; my friends still talk about how well equipped I was for our weekend in Dubai a few years ago: 10 pairs of shoes for 72 hours ensured I was suitably prepared for any situation that could have arisen (though incidentally, none apart from “by the pool” and “at the bar” did). And now I’ve got kids my whole family benefits from these packing skills. This was evident on a recent visit to my parents’, a (theroterical) 3 hour road trip which was such a resounding success I thought it only fair to share my tips on both packing for and surviving a car journey with kids.
Clothes – it’s vital to take clothes for every single possible situation. You just never know when there’ll be a last minute event that calls for a formal outfit; a sudden heat wave that demands beachwear; a cold snap needing thermals; or any opportunity at all that justifies fancy dress. Make sure you pack for them all. Assume poo / sick / tomato sauce / “washable” (ha!) paint incidents will require at least 5 outfit changes a day per child. Even if it’s been a max of 2 EVER before, you just never know and you’d hate to be caught out. Take at least 3 hats per child as you’ll almost certainly lose 2. Take every pant, sock and vest you own. There most definitely won’t be a washing machine where you’re going. Or even probably a tap. Oh, and obviously all this counts for your own clothes packing as well.
Food – whatever your destination you can almost guarantee that there will definitely be no access to food. Especially child friendly food like milk, bread and baked beans. Take EVERYTHING. Be sure to stock up on rarer, more exotic items such as grapes and raisins. As for kids’ snacks, you’ll almost certainly not be able to find these in any shop anywhere, and given how vital they are for bribery rewards take at least 18 per day per child, in a choice of flavours so as not to cause upset.
Toys – chances are you’ll be heading to the great outdoors, miles from the nearest soft play – so do be sure to make up for this selfishness by packing a good selection of toys. Remember, just because something is their favourite thing today doesn’t mean it will be tomorrow. To ensure you avoid possible tantrums, take toys from every “category” (trains, bricks, dolls, kitchen, games, small vehicles, fire engines etc etc). This might also be the week that your child decides he CAN do that 100 piece jigsaw even though he’s still not conquered the 4 piece – so take that too. A lot can change in a week.
Other – take every modern day contraption that you can – travel cot, gro clock, black-out blind, snooze shade, portable stair gate, light buggy, light buggy snooze shade, travel system, front baby carrier, back baby carrier, balance bike, slightly bigger balance bike (in case of growth spurt), scooter (in case of balance bike boredom), 100 muslins (obvs you’d never go ANYWHERE without 100 muslins, just in case), at least 10 blankets for various situations, at least 3 packs of wipes per day, and however many nappies your child uses on an average day, triple it, add 10 and multiply it by number of days. That should cover you, but you’ll still probably be thankful to return home where you can once again be confident you can buy nappies in your local shop.
Treat the actual car packing process as a real life game of Tetris- double bonus points if you manage to fit the kids in as well and triple ones if you are able to move the gearstick into first without dislodging the whole lot.
Despite the fact that in days gone by a family of 5 could manage a 3 week camping holiday in France in a mini metro, these days you’ve simply got no chance if you don’t have at least an SUV, with a box on the top and bike rack on the back. It’s outrageous to think you could get by without one. Some people struggle into estates, but anyone who really wants to enjoy their time away should absolutely purchase a new 4×4 along with the sun tan lotion..
Go direct, obviously, but assume it will take at least 3x whatever sat nav tells you because a car containing children almost certainly guarantees you’ll get stuck behind the first ever tractor convoy to hit the M6. Whatever you do, don’t stop at the services for food or wees – it will cost you at least £50 by the time you’ve got everyone a drink, a bag of maltesers and a pan pipes CD. Instead take sandwiches with various smelly fillings and use that extra-crumby bread to ensure you’ll be reminded of your picnic forever. Stock up on the sugariest of sweets to maximise both excitement highs and “are we nearly there yet” lows. Plot all the motorway junctions with minor roads close by where your kids (and almost certainly you as well) can wee al fresco. Be prepared that your kids will announce they need a wee wee the actual second you pass the exits to these junctions, and will also want to poo with never-before-seen frequency. For younger children prepare to answer the question “where are we going?” at least once a mile.
This will almost certainly be demanded before the key has turned in the ignition. Make sure you have at least 30 different CD choices with you to prevent yourself going out your effing mind and forevermore automatically starting to sing Humpty Dumpty after Baa Baa Black Sheep because that’s the order on the £1.99 CD you picked up at the supermarket checkout which seemed like a good idea at the time. Be aware that the kids falling asleep will coincide perfectly with the moment you’re so deep in the countryside that you lose all “normal” radio signal and will end up listening to some local station in Gaelic / Welsh. Don’t believe in good old fashioned car games – I spy is fun for about 3 minutes but runs out when car / lorry / road / tree / sky / sign have been used up and kids these days don’t seem to be excited by unusual vehicles – recent experience has shown me that even a lorry pulling a boat and a tractor (A BOAT AND A TRACTOR! ON ONE LORRY!!) fails to impress the kids of today
One word: drink.